The hunt for October: MLB playoffs

Jonathan Papelbon has been an outstanding closer for the struggling Red Sox (MCT Campus)

As autumn rolls in and the summer begins to fade away with the color of the trees, twenty-two Major League Baseball teams begin the hibernation for the winter, leaving eight elite teams to do battle for baseball’s ultimate prize.

October baseball is the common goal that all thirty big league ball-clubs have in mind when they first suit up each spring, but only the best of the best can dance in the crisp autumn night.

The 2011 Major League Baseball season has had its fair share of surprises, memorable moments, and history-making performances. Baseball fans had a plethora of things to talk about this summer, such as Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander’s overpowering, MVP caliber pitching and Derek Jeter’s historical climb to three thousand hits.

They saw the “dream team” pitching staff of the Philadelphia Phillies (which lived up to its given title, leading the MLB in earned run average, shutouts, and quality starts).

They watched the Boston Red Sox stumble out of the gates to a frustratingly bad start, rise to a dominant summer in which they recorded league-highs in all the major batting statistics, then simmer down to what might possibly become one of the most epic wild card lead collapses in baseball history.

All in all, baseball fans have much to be pleased about from the 2011 regular season. The best part of it is, now the REAL season begins. In October, it’s win or go home, defeat or be defeated, become champions or watch another team hoist the World Series trophy as you watch from your sofa at home thinking about what could have been.

The Philadelphia Phillies coasted through the regular season and appear to be the only team that will win one-hundred games this season.

They were the first club to clinch a postseason berth, mostly in part due to the phenomenal pitching turned in by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. Those three starting pitchers will most likely be the cornerstone of the Phils’ success in the playoffs. What lies ahead for Philadelphia appears to be the likely National League West champion Arizona Diamondbacks, who will prove to be a challenging matchup behind Cy Young award candidate pitcher Ian Kennedy and outfielder Justin Upton.

The Diamondbacks will look to stay atop of the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants in the standings and clinch their division, setting up a date with the powerhouse Phillies in the Divisional Series of the playoffs.  The teams won three games each against one another in their regular season encounters.

The other National League matchup will likely seat the Central division champion Milwaukee Brewers against the Wild Card-winning Atlanta Braves. The powerful bats of dual MVP candidates Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder (batting at a combined .629 average) have brought the Brewers to be among the elite-of-elite teams in the land.  The Braves are no push-overs though, as they will combat the mighty offense of the Brewers with young pitching that is ranked third in the big-leagues in earned run average.  During the regular season, the Braves have won five of eight games against the Brewers.

On the American League side of things, the Detroit Tigers won their first division title since 1987. They will march into the playoffs on the back of pitcher Justin Verlander, who is almost a guarantee to win the Cy Young award and maybe even MVP.

Verlander has won twenty-four games, the most by any pitcher since 2002. The Tigers will face-off with the winner of the Wild Card, whether that is the struggling Boston Red Sox or the surging Tampa Bay Rays.

While the Wild Card race will come down to the wire, the Tigers will be rooting on the Rays, whom they have won six of seven games against during the regular season.

The Red Sox have proved to be a tougher test for Detroit, seeing how Boston has won five of six games.

The New York Yankees have had a challenging yet fulfilling 2011 campaign. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera have both achieved historical milestones, reaching three-thousand hits and six-hundred saves respectively. They will bring in what will likely be the American League’s best record in hopes of doing what no other North American professional sports franchise has ever done: capture an unprecedented twenty-eighth world championship.

Their likely opponents: the defending American League champion Texas Rangers, who sent the Bronx Bombers home unhappy last fall. The Yankees will seek the sweet revenge of October’s past against Texas’ 2010 MVP Josh Hamilton and solid starting pitcher C.J. Wilson.

The Yankees have held the upper hand during the regular season series, defeating the Rangers seven times and only losing once.

By day, October means harvest festivals and pumpkin picking. By night, it means the best baseball action a fan could ask for. Eight teams will square off with one common goal.

The leaves change color, the air gets colder, and the amount of teams remaining in the fight for a World Series title will shrink. But as each team gets sent home for the winter, MLB postseason baseball gets that much better.